The Young and Disenchanted

“When you smiled and I turned and I said to you/Yo, yo you’re pure and true” – Dating in College, Part IV

Posted on: 11 December, 2009

I’m 100% certain that my boy Rational Chaos is going to call me out for my “softness” in writing about this, but I’ve been thinking a lot about love lately. Ugh. I feel disgusted with myself just typing that out. I kid – love is a beautiful thing. It’s also a complicated, messy painful affair that can leave you hurt, angry and disillusioned. Seeing love fail is a big part of why I considered myself to be disenchanted when I started this blog. That’s what a few years of college will do to you – I’ve seen so many relationships blossom with hope only to fall apart, like a cheap shoe after too many miles of New York pavement.  I’ve written before about how the “dating” system I’ve observed in college is completely nonsensical to me – this whole “hooking up” and “talking” business before going on an actual date is a bizarre inversion of how the rest of the world sees relationships. And more than that, the way that men and women talk about and relate to one another leaves me even more bemused. I’ve heard guys refer to women in terms of their bodies, their faces and how many positions they want to take them in, but rarely have I heard a man on my campus talk about how much they enjoy talking to a girl about politics, or how cute she looks when they say something dumb and she looks embarrassed for them or even something as simple as how beautiful she looks dressed up for an event. I don’t know if it’s the cynical atmosphere of the city or the age, how they interacted with women growing up or just plain old sexism – what I do know is that it’s fucking problematic.

Of course, not all men are this way. And there are, of course, plenty of women who discuss men (and themselves!) in similarly objectifying terms. And not male/female relations are about sex – there are many people on my campus who are in happy, well-rounded relationships.  I think what bothers me is that sex always seems to be so up-in-your-face whenever people think about relationships. It’s like my girl said to me:  “When it gets cold, people start looking for alternate ways to keep warm.” But apparently, not much else. The only real criterion for hopping into bed with someone seems to be a basic sexual attraction. Don’t get me wrong – sex is great. People should get it in as much as possible – in fact, I personally believe that if all of the disgruntled people in this world just got a quality session in the bed, we could solve global warming, the Iraq war and establish a global socialist utopia (just make it consensual, k?).  But when that’s all I’m supposed to think about when I’m attracted to a guy – if he’s just supposed to see me as ass, boobs and vagina – I have to pause and start rethinking some things.

A lot of people think that this sexual “looseness” and general fuckery can be traced back to the feminist movements of the 1960s: female sexual liberation supposedly made women believe that they could not only act like men, they could fuck like them too – which snowballed into men taking advantage of the exponential increase in available ass, thereby reducing its value and cheapening the relationships between men and women. Now obviously this is a gross oversimplification, as well as a romanticisation of the past, but there may be an element of truth in this. Do not get me wrong: me + women’s lib = love. That particular element of civil rights movements is the reason why I’m sitting in this godforsaken library at my university studiously ignoring my essays, instead of preparing dinner for my three kids and husband after spending the day cleaning the house and buying groceries (again, I kid). But damn, why does EVERYTHING have to be about sex?? And this bullshit about us being “equals” – an excuse for multiple sexual partners and “free love”? I AM NOT WITH IT.

Breathe.

I guess, when it boils down to it, I’m an old fashioned girl. I like dates. I like that tension of not being kissed when you expect it to happen. I love realising that I like someone despite the fact that the most intimate we’ve been is sitting next to each other at a meeting. And I hate that being at college means that the odds of finding a guy who feels the same way are slim-to-none.

But I’m an optimist. For one of my classes this semester, I read a novel called “The Home and the World” which was written by Rabindranath Tagore, an Indian intellectual and literary figure of the late 19th/early 20th centuries. It’s about a love triangle, Indian nationalism and colonial rule, amongst other things (I won’t spoil it for y’all). I was in the middle of re-reading it to write a paper when I was stopped by this line right at the beginning – it’s from the main female character, Bimila: “My husband used to say, that man and wife are equal in love because of their equal claim on each other. I never argued the point with him, but my heart said that devotion never stands in the way of true equality; it only raises the level of the ground of meeting.” Now, this may not seem to have a lot to do with what I was just writing about, but let me explain. Bimila is living in Bengal, India in the early 20th century – not a spot where the women’s liberation movement had quite taken off. She lives in purdah (seclusion), meaning that she spends her days within the confines of her home. 21st century American college life is probably the polar opposite of her existence. But putting this aside, I was most struck by the way she sees herself as a woman in relation to her husband. She isn’t “submissive” in the traditional sense, nor is she sexualised or objectified by her husband who is determined that she emerge from purdah and enjoy the “real” world and all it has to offer. She loves him – not only because of his qualities and because of the way that he treats her as an equal, but also because she can express her love to him through being a woman, in a non-sexual manner. And he reciprocates the feeling from a similar standpoint. In the context I’m living in, that notion is a breath of fresh air. Love should be a well-rounded thing. Sex is important, but so is being able to talk to someone about big and small matters, doing little things for them like making them a meal, being able to sit quietly with each other and not need to say a word, or be concerned about what they’re thinking because in the end, nothing really matters at all. And on the side of men – never underestimate the power of complimenting a girl, meaning it, and expecting nothing (especially nothing sexual) in return.  Or of not texting her only after midnight. Or of surprising her with dessert, just because.

I haven’t figured out all of this relationship stuff yet. I am, however, realising more what I understand to be love and what I don’t. This is just a small articulation of the beauty I consider that thing to be – a mint-filled garden in the middle of a city of concrete: seemingly out of place, but all the more lovely for it.

P.S. In musical terms, this Erykah Badu song best articulates the way I feel about love and shit.

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